As chief executive of a UK SME reliant on a successful financial services sector, Brexit caused a mixture of emotions in me – anger and fear being two of them.
But chief executives count action among their traits, so rather than listen to the relentless speculation about Article 50 and its implications, I downloaded the document and read through it myself.
I made an educated guess that it would likely take 10 years for Britain to fully disengage from the EU, so I decided to put £4,000 into R&D. I booked a trip to Dublin and Frankfurt to see for myself whether these cities could lure away financial services business from London as reported in the media. My plan was initially to review the potential to set up and operate in either city. I wanted first mover advantage.
These were my impressions.
Frankfurt – nil points
Boring index 10 out of 10, but I was assured the city was more lively and fun on Thursdays.
Frankfurt is a small city with a population of 700,000 that couldn’t possibly absorb a British financial services “ghetto” of 1m people. I would put fluency of the English language at 40 per cent and ease of doing business at no more than 20 per cent.
Lawyers on the ground have seen no interest at all in London companies moving to Frankfurt. And it was easy to see why. My request for the wine menu at a business lunch met with a vacant smile and nod, and another waiter coming to ask me if I had asked for the “warm tea menu”! Most taxi drivers didn’t speak any English, nor did half of the hotel staff.
Cash is king and businesses including restaurants, taxis and trains all want hard money. The default response to offering a card is “Oh! You want to pay by card?” followed by some confusion about how to use the machines. Taxi rides are plentiful but expensive and burn through cash until you discover a taxi app which involves a whirring cog that takes about 3 minutes to transact. By that time everyone believes the transaction has failed, tries again or asks for cash.
Frankfurt is still very Germanic and provincial compared to London, despite the presence of some international business. The fresh baked cookies and cakes from staff in meeting rooms, however, make the city worth a yearly visit. The excellent and easy to understand train service is another good point.
Dublin – nil points although with some traction
Boring index seven out of 10. There are a handful of fun places.
With a population of 600,000, Dublin is another small city compared to London’s 8m. There is simply no infrastructure to cope with an influx of people – not enough housing, schools or healthcare.
Though obviously no language barriers, I wouldn’t score the ease of doing business at more than 10 per cent.
While the majority of Dublin lawyers say they have seen a 10 per cent year-on-year increase in active enquiries, one lawyer laughed so hard he nearly choked at the idea of Dublin taking pole position from London.
Travelling to Dublin was tedious with long queues in immigration (this is always the case I was told), a long taxi ride to the city, and bordering on rude, frustrating service at the hotel. Although tech companies are opening up, laws are not as up-to-date as in London in many areas according to the lawyers I met there.
With the greatest of respect to both cities, my conclusion is that the relocation of 1m financial services staff to either or both cities is ludicrous. London companies should wake up to the power the British capital holds and lobby the government to secure favourable Single Market access rather than sit back and listen to endless defeatist speculation.